A regional jail?For over a year, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners has been researching the possibility of building a new law enforcement center and jail facility.
By: Erin Klegstad, Staff Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
For over a year, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners has been researching the possibility of building a new law enforcement center and jail facility.
The board recently opened the door to another possibility of that happening.
On Monday, the board met with county board members from surrounding counties to discuss the possibility of working together and combining services.
County representatives from Douglas, Pope, Todd, Stevens and Traverse counties – 19 in all – attended the meeting, which took place at Douglas County Public Works. (Grant County will also be included, but no one from there was able to attend the meeting.)
“We have concerns and hopes in combining services and working together,” said Douglas County board chair Bryan Withers. “We need to be open to it. It’s good to get together.”
He continued, noting, “Everyone has jail needs. We are in favor of making it more efficient if we can go with another county.”
Overall, each county agreed upon the same thing – they all have common challenges. A collaborative effort could help them approach their issues and could be more economical.
The six counties involved in the discussions are in the process of planning another joint meeting for the week of December 13 to discuss a possible joint jail facility. Legislators from each county will be invited to attend as well as a representative from the governor’s office.
“We’re open to discussion about how to best look at serving our citizens,” commented Jim Thoreen of Stevens County. “We are a very mobile society. A more seamless way of delivering services seems to make sense.”
Stevens County is already involved in a collaborative public health effort with Traverse County.
Ken Sorenson of Todd County said they are open to alternative possibilities. “We know the jail population is increasing,” he said. “Where we’ll go with it is still out there to be discussed and decided.”
For neighboring Pope County – it currently uses the Douglas County Jail – its law enforcement cost is something it “needs to get a handle on,” said Riaz Aziz, Pope County coordinator.
In excess of twice what they budgeted for in 2005, the Pope County Board plans to take a look at possible solutions in the upcoming year.
“One of the keys is to discuss what we as a county can do,” Aziz noted, including the possibility of combining services.
The group agreed that the rural area’s methamphetamine problem is what is “chewing” up county budgets.
A possible solution was suggested – sending a group of commissioners from seven to 10 counties to St. Paul to meet with local legislators.
“To have a 10-county delegation has a very significant impact on something like this,” Aziz commented. “It could really be a positive impact to have more counties go along with this.”
“The more counties involved the better,” said Douglas County commissioner Paul Anderson. “There’s strength in numbers.”
Thoreen noted that if they do meet with legislators, they need to have a well-defined message that is on target and fairly precise. All concurred that they need to meet with the legislators before the 2005 session begins in January.
“It needs to be modified to fit our part of the state,” he added. “It’s good to emphasize our problems.”
Pope County commissioner Everell Barsness pointed out that the state is “well aware” of the area’s jail needs, but they are still going to ask where the money to pay for it is going to come from.
Aziz added although the state does know their problems, “there is something to having a collective effort.”
He suggested that by working together regionally, the counties reinforce their message and provide the legislators with alternatives for them to consider.
“If we say nothing, nothing gets accomplished,” Aziz said.
Pope County commissioner Jeanne Olson added that if they came up with a list of incentives to give the legislators, it might be easier to receive funding.
“We as a group have to stand up and shout,” Anderson said. “You can be sure the seven-county metro area is going to.”
“It’s important for counties to work together and have a unified voice,” said Sorenson.
Douglas County commissioner John Mingus agreed. “If they are going to send prisoners back to us, why don’t they help us build a jail,” he said. “You help us, we’ll help you.”
Douglas County coordinator Bill Schalow summed up the meeting. “We are faced with regionalization. It’s going to happen,” he said. “We need to look at ways to work together. This is a good starting point.”
Each county board agreed to review its needs before collectively meeting again. The Douglas County commissioners are in full agreement that if they can combine with additional counties, they are all for it.